Dear Jonathan: What to expect during your 900-mile trip in a ’78 Lotus

Editor’s note: Prior to Hagerty magazine Associate Publisher Jonathan Stein’s recent 900-mile trip in a 1978 Lotus Esprit, Jeff Sabatini sent the following tips and predictions for the ride.

Dear Jonathan, 

I just heard you’re going to be driving (Hagerty Vice President of Media Properties) Rob Sass’s latest Craigslist find from Philly to St. Louis and hoped you might need a co-pilot. By way of an audition, let me offer a few pointers to prove my potential usefulness.

It’s my philosophy that a cross-country drive in a sight-unseen vintage sports car is easy (as long as it’s not your car).You do have to avoid crunching the numbers and stay focused on how cool the car looked sitting there in the parking lot before you slipped behind the wheel. For this Esprit, that means ignoring the fact that the car is three decades old, which should be easy since it only has 27,000 miles on the odometer.

Yet, as I think about it, that seems like not nearly enough. I’m no fan of math, but this works out to an annual mileage roughly equivalent to what we’ll be driving on the trip. Putting a whole year’s worth of use on the car in one day seems risky, but then again, I don’t have a whole year to devote to this project. Perhaps the seller can explain why he’s been so afraid to drive his car?

As to the route, it seems like a pretty direct shot, west down the Turnpike to Interstate 70. We should get an early start, and I bet we can make it the 85 miles to Harrisburg before breakfast. (I’ll bring a couple of Pop Tarts just in case.) I plan to dress for the weather, as it has been a rainy month. Plus the potentiality of having to drive with the windows down due to the burning oil and/or gasoline smell is pretty high. Then there are the windows themselves. Seeing as they’ll probably stop working at some point, maybe we’d best put them down and leave them there as a precautionary measure. Of course, this makes me nervous about parking the car. If you’re going to steal a car from a Denny’s parking lot, why not the Esprit! Maybe we’d better just plan on the Pop Tarts.

If we skip breakfast, we’ll be making good time − at least what passes for it in Pennsylvania. The fuel gauge will probably be dropping pretty rapidly as we head toward Breezewood, so we can gas up at the truck stop capital. (Not forgetting to put both fuel filler caps back on the car!) We should calculate our fuel economy, which will help us determine whether the leaky hatch has allowed water to collect around the fuel tank, causing it to rust. If we don’t make it to Breezewood because we run out of gas, we’ll know we’ve got a leak. With that thought in mind, perhaps we should bring along a jerry can.

If the Esprit can make it 175 miles, we’re in good shape. It’s bound to make it another 700, right? So maybe we ought to take an off-freeway excursion into southern Ohio to grab lunch and find some hills. This is a Lotus, after all, so we can test its handling, while doing Rob the courtesy of evaluating his new car’s famously fragile steering rack. Then again, I have a Michigan no-fault policy and I’m pretty sure if I hit something in Ohio it’s a capital crime. Let’s just go through an Arthur Treacher’s drive-through in Columbus for a late lunch instead.

The next target on I-70 would be the mecca of Indianapolis. We’ll hit town too late for a Speedway pilgrimage, but just about the right time for dinner. At this point I think we’d be crazy not to get out of the car and un-contort our limbs, before sitting down for a nice steak. We’ll be on the home stretch after dinner, but the sun is setting, which will likely lead to the discovery that one of the Esprit’s headlights moves up and down uncontrollably. Fortunately, we should still be able to drive the car, whether it’s casting the shadow of a Fiero or not. Let’s just hope that once we get back on the freeway, the “good” headlight isn’t vibrating over every expansion joint.

When we hit Terre Haute, we’ll only be about three hours from the Arch, a short jaunt across southern Illinois. We’ll be heading into the Central Time Zone, so if the clock in the Esprit worked, well, this is where we’d want to set it. Speaking of time, we’ll have been on the road now for at least 13 hours or so, which probably works out to just the exact amount of friction and vibration to loosen and/or destroy the engine mounts and/or exhaust system.

But hey, by this point in the trip, there’s not a lot that could keep us from reaching St. Louis. Heck, if the car was going to overheat from the air trapped in its cooling system, well, we’d be sitting back in Philly waiting for the mechanic who rebuilt the carbs and put in a new timing belt to earn another boat payment.

Let me know,


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